Loulé 5 Day tour - a region of fishmongers, beaches and mountain villages

Day 1

I arrived in Loulé on a Saturday morning for the start of my Loulé 5 day tour, and day 4 of my Algarve tour. I was immediately taken by the sight of Loulé’s Market and its bright red domes. Before​ ​stopping​ ​here,​ ​I​ ​continued​ ​driving​ ​to​ ​Loulé’s​ ​gipsy​ ​market. The​ ​gipsy​ ​market​ ​is​ ​held​ ​every​ ​Saturday​ ​opposite​ ​the​ ​Convento​ ​de​ ​Santo​ ​António.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​like​ ​hunting​ ​for bargains,​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​place​ ​for​ ​you.​ ​From​ ​second-hand​ ​clothes​ ​to​ ​handmade​ ​jewellery,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​plethora of​ ​items​ ​on​ ​offer.

I​ ​left​ ​the​ ​fair​ and after a short drive I parked the car in front of the Jardim Manuel de Arriaga which faces the​ ​Loulé​ ​Jardim​ ​Hotel,​ ​where​ ​I’ll​ ​be​ ​spending​ ​the​ ​night.​ The​ ​name​ ​“garden hotel”​ ​seems​ ​fitting​ ​as​ ​you​ ​start​ ​noticing​ ​all​ ​the​ ​greenery​ ​crawling​ ​through​ ​the​ ​lobby.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​plant​ ​vase on​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​near​ ​the​ ​piano​ ​while​ ​another​ ​pot​ ​rests​ ​on​ ​a​ ​table,​ ​contrasting​ ​against​ ​its​ ​white​ ​top.​ ​I’m​ ​greeted by​ ​the​ ​hotel’s​ ​staff,​ ​who​ ​promptly​ ​points​ ​me​ ​to​ ​my​ ​room​ ​after​ ​checking​ ​in. I leave my bag of clothes and take only the essentials to go and explore the rest of the town.

First​ ​off​ ​is​ ​the​ ​city’s​ ​most​ ​striking​ ​landmark​ ​-​ ​the​ ​local​ ​market.​ ​This​ ​market​ ​has​ ​been​ ​around​ ​for​ ​more​ ​than a​ ​century,​ ​and​ ​while​ ​its​ ​architecture​ ​is​ ​not​ ​exactly​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​it​ ​was​ ​when​ ​the​ ​market​ ​was​ ​first​ ​founded in​ ​1908,​ ​its​ ​purpose​ ​remains​ ​unaltered​ ​-​ ​to​ ​promote​ ​local​ ​commerce. From​ ​Monday​ ​to​ ​Saturday,​ ​local​ ​sellers​ ​gather​ ​here​ ​to​ ​present​ ​their​ ​fresh​ ​produce,​ ​these​ ​include​ ​fish, fruit,​ ​vegetables,​ ​spices​ ​and​ ​the​ ​list​ ​goes​ ​on…​ ​You​ ​can​ ​even​ ​find​ ​people​ ​selling​ ​local​ ​crafts​ ​such​ ​as honeypots​ ​and​ ​cork​ ​bags.​ ​Out​ ​of​ ​its​ ​six​ ​working​ ​days,​ ​Saturday​ ​morning​ ​is​ ​by​ ​far​ ​the​ ​height​ ​of​ ​the​ ​week.

As​ ​I​ ​enter​ ​the​ ​market,​ ​I​ ​can't​ ​help​ ​but​ ​smell​ ​the​ ​fish,​ ​but​ ​there​ ​are​ ​other​ ​scents​ ​that​ ​I​ ​absorb​ ​as​ ​I​ ​walk​ ​past each​ ​stall,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​piri​ ​piri​ ​peppers​ ​that​ ​I​ ​find​ ​pierced​ ​together​ ​by​ ​a​ ​thin​ ​wire​ ​that​ ​hangs​ ​from​ ​the​ ​top​ ​of the​ ​stands. Other​ ​sellers​ ​try​ ​to​ ​entice​ ​you​ ​by​ ​offering​ ​a​ ​free​ ​tasting​ ​before​ ​buying​ ​their​ ​products​ ​-​ ​and​ ​who​ ​can​ ​say​ ​no to​ ​free​ ​food?

But​ ​if​ ​Loulé’s​ ​Market​ ​was​ ​a​ ​film,​ ​fish​ ​would​ ​definitely​ ​be​ ​the​ ​main​ ​actor.​ ​Chopped​ ​salmon​ ​heads,​ ​dry codfish​ ​and​ ​still-pretty-much-alive​ ​crabs,​ ​the​ ​market​ ​offers​ ​a​ ​great​ ​selection​ ​of​ ​seafood​ ​and​ ​fishmongers have​ ​been​ ​Loulé’s​ ​idols​ ​for​ ​decades.

After strolling around the market for almost an hour, I stopped at one of the coffee shops and drank a small-but-strong espresso, before​ ​walking​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Convento​ ​Espírito​ ​Santo,​ ​a​ ​former​ ​convent​ ​that​ ​currently functions​ ​as​ ​a​ ​university​ ​and​ ​an​ ​art​ ​gallery. I took a quick look at the latest exhibition and then headed out again towards the Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição.

This small chapel was established in the mid-17th century. It seems quite modest on the outside with its plain white façade, but come inside and you’ll unveil its treasury. The walls are entirely covered with blue and white tiles and right at the bottom lies a gilded altar embedded with a series of religious figures. The see-through glass on the floor allows you to contemplate an Islamic door from the 2nd century that was found during excavations. It’s these unique features that make this chapel worth the visit.

For lunch, I picked Restaurante Bocage, a local restaurant that has been serving traditional Algarvean fare since 1984. Grilled dishes are Bocage’s speciality, whether it’s meat or fish there is a grilled version of pretty much everything on the menu. They also have daily specials. Today, they had “Portuguese” pork meat and stewed rabbit. I decided to go for the pork and washed it down with a glass of red wine.

My journey through Loulé was off to a good start and I was looking forward to seeing the rest of its landmarks.

Walking map for the morning of Day 1 of this Loulé tour





After lunch, I visited Loulé’s Municipal Museum to learn more about the council’s past. The museum is actually divided into different hubs which are spread along the district. The main hub in Loulé’s city centre shows a traditional kitchen in the Algarve during the mid-20th century. It features a variety of old kitchen utensils like boards for bread-making, copper pans and a millstone often used to make corn flour, among other items.

Right behind the museum, I found the Castle of Loulé. This Moorish building was rebuilt during the 13th century as a fortress and it’s now one of the city’s main highlights. The original settlement dates back to the 2nd-century A.C when it was occupied by the Romans. Today, part of the castle’s walls are integrated into a few local buildings around the area. On top of one of the towers, the Portuguese flag rises up from a white pole waving softly in the wind.

I continued my tour around town and passed by Igreja de Clemente. Standing in front of it, I couldn’t help but admire its geometry, the circle window in the middle and its triangle-shaped doorway. Behind the church, there’s also a bell tower whose architecture is said to be inspired by the Muslim minarets. The church itself was established in the 13th century and later restored in the 16th century. Much like the Nossa Senhora da Conceição chapel, this church also has a golden altarpiece at the rear of the room with a few statuettes.

Next, I stopped by the Artcatto Gallery, one of Loulé’s contemporary art galleries. Artcatto is usually only open during the week, but you can request to visit on Saturday as well, which was what I did. The founder, Gillian Catto is a big name in the London art scene where she ran her own gallery for more than three decades. Now living in the Algarve, Catto hosts exhibitions with national and international artists, drawing many art enthusiasts to the city.

Tired from all the walking, I settled down at Café Calcinha, a historic establishment for the city of Loulé that has witnessed many generations of residents and outsiders. The poet António Aleixo was one of the café’s frequent customers and it was here that he wrote several of his poems. I sat near his statue outside and enjoyed my second cup of coffee accompanied by a local sweet pastry named “folhado de Loulé”.

I exited the café and made it to Loulé’s Municipal Park right before the sunset. The park is open 24 hours a day, making it the perfect spot for an evening stroll. It has an area for picnics, mini golf, a children’s playground and a walking circuit of around 800m. I found a free bench beneath a hall of trees and sat down reading a book until the streetlights were switched on as if announcing dinner time.

I​ ​got​ ​up​ ​and​ ​headed​ ​straight​ ​to​ ​Artigo​ ​Três,​ ​a​ ​modern​ ​Japanese​ ​restaurant​ ​set​ ​next​ ​to​ ​Loulé’s​ ​market. Hiroshi​ ​and​ ​Shogo​ ​are​ ​the​ ​faces​ ​behind​ ​this​ ​traditional​ ​sushi​ ​bar​ ​that​ ​opened​ ​in​ ​early​ ​2017.​ ​When​ ​they decided​ ​to​ ​open​ ​a​ ​restaurant​ ​in​ ​Europe​ ​their​ ​main​ ​concern​ ​was​ ​having​ ​the​ ​best​ ​fresh​ ​fish​ ​and​ ​that’s​ ​why they​ ​settled​ ​down​ ​in​ ​Loulé.​ ​The​ ​local​ ​market​ ​is​ ​an​ ​incredible​ ​source​ ​of​ ​fresh​ ​fish​ ​and​ ​seafood,​ ​which​ ​are essential​ ​ingredients​ ​in​ ​Japanese​ ​cuisine.

The​ ​menu​ ​at​ ​Artigo​ ​Três​ ​is​ ​small​ ​but​ ​it​ ​makes​ ​up​ ​for​ ​it​ ​in​ ​the​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​ingredients​ ​that​ ​are​ ​on​ ​offer. Starting​ ​with​ ​a​ ​delicious​ ​miso​ ​soup​ ​and​ ​moving​ ​on​ ​to​ ​the​ ​sushi​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sashimi​ ​which​ ​are​ ​always accompanied​ ​with​ ​ginger​ ​and​ ​freshly-made​ ​wasabi. If​ ​you​ ​sit​ ​near​ ​the​ ​bar​ ​you​ ​can​ ​watch​ ​the​ ​chef​ ​prepare​ ​these​ ​delicious​ ​and​ ​utterly​ ​fresh​ ​treats​ ​before they’re​ ​carefully​ ​assembled​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​a​ ​black​ ​chalkboard. I​ ​ate​ ​slowly,​ ​savouring​ ​every​ ​mouthful​ ​of​ ​fish​ ​and​ ​rice​ ​until​ ​there​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​else​ ​to​ ​grab.​ ​I​ ​finished​ ​my last​ ​drop​ ​of​ ​beer,​ ​paid​ ​the​ ​bill​ ​and​ ​walked​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​hotel.

Walking map for the afternoon of Day 1 of this Loulé tour





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